Public interfaith foot-washing at St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco

Posted on April 22, 2014

On Thursday, April 17 — Maundy Thursday — St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco, hosted an interfaith public foot-washing to honor immigrant families. The event brought together immigration rights activists and religious and civic leaders. Speakers used their time to address the value of immigrant labor and call for changes to current immigration policy.

In his opening remarks, the Rev. Richard Smith, vicar of St. John’s, said, “In our country today, it is usually the immigrant who washes the feet of the native-born citizen. You do this in various ways — by caring for our kids, cleaning our homes, washing our cars, often with no job security and for wages that are far too low. It is usually the immigrant who washes the feet of the native-born citizen. But not today. Not here. Not in God’s house.”

Focusing on the impact that current immigration policies have on families, and the importance of keeping families together, Smith said, “At this very moment, in the Bay Area alone, 24,000 people are in deportation proceedings. Many hard­working parents have had their workplaces raided and been fired for lack of documentation. With so many families being torn apart each day, and so many parents losing their jobs, the president must now use executive action to stop tearing our families apart.”

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders spoke about the role and history of foot-washing in their particular religious traditions after praying an opening litany in Spanish and English. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb offered a sung blessing in Hebrew before three immigrants whose feet were to be washed shared their stories, including an undocumented woman with three children who are US citizens, and a college freshman whose mother is currently in immigration detention.

After hearing immigrants’ stories, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke about pending legislation to reform the United States’ current immigration system. Pelosi said that HR15 would “reduce the deficit by nearly $1 trillion, secure our borders, unite our families, protect our workers, and provide an earned pathway to citizenship.” Following Pelosi’s speech, she joined Bishop Marc and several members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in washing immigrants’ feet.

The ritual concluded with the Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus offering a blessing to those gathered, especially the civic leaders who participated and are working to change the United States’ immigration system.